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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at Reception for Barbara Demick

Eric P. Schwartz
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
Marshall Center
Washington, DC
September 28, 2010


Good afternoon. I want to welcome you all to the Department of State, and thank you for attending today's event. A warm welcome especially to our guest of honor, Barbara Demick, who so graciously made herself available today to the Department's team of North Korea experts and policy advisors. The kind of information you provided today, and the wide ranging discussions in which you've participated, is so valuable to us all – and we want to thank you for making yourself so available to us. Advancing North Korean human rights requires a coordinated approach, which is why it is so valuable to have so many of you here. We at the State Department welcome this opportunity to expand the conversation on the issue of North Korean human rights with some of the leading experts in this field.

Advancing North Korean human rights is widely supported by the Obama Administration and across the political spectrum in Congress, as we saw through the unanimous passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and its 2008 Reauthorization. We continue to work to implement the Act and its primary goals, which include: increased respect for and protection of fundamental human rights in North Korea; more durable humanitarian solutions to the plight of North Korean refugees; increased monitoring, access, and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea; the free flow of information into and out of North Korea; and progress toward the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government.

The U.S. Department of State’s 2009 annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices provides details on what is well known: that the state of human rights in North Korea remains deplorable; and the publication documented NGO reporting on a number of serious problems related to the DPRK’s human rights record. State security forces reportedly commit severe human rights abuses and political prisoners are subject to brutality and torture. Elections are not free or fair; the judiciary is not independent; and citizens are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition, severe restrictions are imposed on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Finally, we hear continuing and widespread reports of severe punishment for repatriated asylum seekers and trafficking of women and girls across the border into China.

The United States remains committed to improving conditions for those who leave the DPRK. We continue to work with international organizations, especially the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with other countries to help North Korean asylum seekers obtain protection. In recent years, we have expanded our efforts to assist North Korean refugees, including by resettling 99 refugees in the United States since the passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

Events like today are an exceptional opportunity for the like minded community of dedicated activists and policy experts to move this issue forward – or at least consider ways forward -- and I want to thank you all for your time and dedication. But there is an additional value to having Barbara, and her book, available to us. I’m not through the whole book yet, but what I’ve been able to read over the weekend vividly describes the deprivations of the north, but does much more: it provides insight into the hopes, desires, and passions of ordinary North Koreans, and thus powerfully – so powerfully – communicates the loss, the sacrifices – beyond physical and political deprivations – that result from systematic violations of human rights.
And, in doing so, Barbara’s words inspire us to do more.

With that, I'd like to introduce Barbara, whom many of you already know from your participation in events earlier today, or through your own work to promote the human rights of North Koreans, no matter where they live.

She is the Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times. Her reporting on North Korea won the Overseas Press Club’s award for human rights reporting as well as awards from the Asia Society and the American Academy of Diplomacy. Previously, Ms. Demick worked as the LA Times first bureau chief in Seoul, and she is the 2010 recipient of the prestigious BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for her book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives of North Koreans. With that, I give you Barbara Demick.

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